Thursday, July 28, 2016

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

True Riches

One of the books besides the Bible which influenced my life for the better was the book by Napoleon Hill entitled THINK AND GROW RICH. I bought it more than 40 years ago to read something while waiting for an airplane to take me to southern Philippines. As the title suggests the book teaches that if you think rich you will grow rich.

What surprised me as I read that book was that the author was not only teaching how to grow rich financially. I thought all along that it teaches the reader how to be rich in money, how to be wealthy. But I learned from that book that there are things worth pursuing other than money.

In fact the author Napoleon Hill teaches his readers not to be careful with material possessions. He says, "If you must be careless with your possessions, let it be in connection with material things." Further on he elaborates, "Riches cannot always be measured in money! . . .  there are some who will feel that the greatest of all riches can be evaluated only in terms of lasting friendships, harmonious family relationships, sympathy and understanding between business associates, and introspective harmony which brings one peace of mind measurable only in spiritual values!" And he quotes Westbrook Pegler: ‘Money is only clam shells or metal discs or scraps of paper, and there are treasures of the heart and soul which money cannot buy, but most people, being broke, are unable to keep this in mind and sustain their spirits.' (New York World-Telegram).

This book shows us that even men of the world know and teach that true riches are not measured by money or material possessions.

In today's Gospel our Lord tells us what are the true riches. He agrees with Solomon who says in our first reading that all things are vanity. And he exhorts us through the second reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Colossians, to seek what is above, to think of what is above, not what is of earth. And he explicitly tells us what true riches are not. They are not what we possess no matter how vast these are. Rather true riches for Jesus is what God possesses.
The ending of the Gospel reading is very instructive. Jesus says, "Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God."
Jesus wants us to be rich but not by storing up treasures for ourselves but by storing up treasures for God.
Storing up treasures for God can mean two or three things. It can mean that we store up things which God can use. It can also mean storing up things which from the viewpoint of God are treasures to him. Or it can mean both.
Storing up treasures which God can use happened in the case of Joseph of Arimathea who the Scriptures say was a rich man. His treasures were used by God to bury his son Jesus. Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would be buried in a rich man's tomb (53:9 AV). Joseph was part of the fulfillment of this prophecy. Joseph was a disciple of Jesus but we have no record that Jesus told him to sell what he had to give to the poor. This was because what he had was for the use of God.
This happened also with the original Joseph who was governor of Egypt 16 centuries before Christ. He stored up food during the seven years of plenty which God would use during the following seven years of famine. This was an enormous amount of grain worth by now billions of dollars. God used this to feed Jacob and his family, besides feeding by it also the people of Egypt.
Jesus wants us to store up treasures for use in his kingdom, but not for our greed, for the sake of just having more. In the parable of the talents he teaches us to invest what we receive from him so that our talents become productive and useful for other people.
Storing up treasures for God can also mean that we store up things which from the viewpoint of God are treasures to him. Here we refer principally to the three theological virtues which make active the life of God within us. These are the virtues of faith, hope and love. These are the real treasures from God's point of view and Jesus wants us to have these treasures. We can never have enough of these divine treasures, faith and hope and love. They are called theological virtues or habits because they make us live like God. These are unseen treasures but they are very real.
Faith makes us understand the things of God. Hope makes us desire what God has. Love makes us enjoy the power, goodness, and abundance of God. These are the qualities worth storing in our life. The strange thing about these treasures or qualities is that the more we use them they more they accumulate in us and the more we can share these with others.
Finally when Jesus says that he wants us to be rich with respect to the things of God or to store up treasures for God, he means that we have more of the material things which he can use for the kingdom and that we have more of the qualities which make us more and more like him. Then we are truly rich with regards to God. God now sees us as truly rich in his son Jesus.
Let us ask God for the true riches in life. Let us bow our heads.

Father God, the Psalmist exclaims that you own the whole world. As your heirs we too own this whole wide world. Teach us to use the things of this world for your kingdom. Make us also rich in faith and hope and love so that we can share your goodness with others. This we pray through your Son Jesus who showed us what the true riches are by the power of your Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

A Debt-Free Life

Today we heard the second version of the Our Father, the Lucan version, the version according to St. Luke. This is not the version we use in our prayers. We use the Matthean version or the version according to St. Matthew. What's the difference? There are a few differences but most of the words are the same. For one, the ending "For yours is the kingdom, and the power and the glory, forever. Amen." is not in the version read today. We do not use this ending in our common prayer because it has been found to be an addition only, not really written by St. Matthew but it has been incorporated in our Mass, as a fitting ending to our prayer for peace.

Another difference and this time it is a significant difference is in the petition where we say "Forgive us our trespasses". Today we did not hear this petition. We heard rather another petition: "Forgive us our sins". This is the petition in the original Greek in the Gospel of Luke, it asks for forgiveness of our sins. Some people put this as their petition in the Our Father that they recite. They say, "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sinned against us". The first part follows the Lucan version we heard today. The second part "as we forgive those who sinned against us" is not in the Gospel of St. Luke. It has been put there by people who want to make a parallel phrase after the first part: forgive us our sins as we forgive the sins. So here there is a balance. God forgives our sins, we also forgive the sins of people towards us.

The second part of that petition to forgive us our sins is what we heard today, "for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us." And this second part tells us the mind of Jesus concerning debts. In both versions of the Our Father, that of St. Luke and that of St. Matthew, Jesus is concerned with debts. Since the version of St. Luke was later than that of St. Matthew it is safe to say that the original words of Jesus were really about debts, but the Church in the time of Luke edited this word to become "sins". Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit this editing was still valid.

It is unfortunate that the English Our Father as it has come down to us has "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespassed against us". The original Greek has "debts" instead of "trespasses". In the website Jan Wakelin says that it is only English Catholics who use the word "trespasses" instead of "debts". Then he rationalizes why "trespasses" is a better word than "debts".

But as we will soon show, Jesus meant "debts", not trespasses. Simply stated, Jesus wanted us his followers to be free from debts. This is also what St. Paul the Apostle told us through the Romans, "Owe no debt to anyone except the debt that binds us to love one another" (13:8 NAB). 

In the Our Father Jesus is teaching us to ask God, his Father and our Father, to take away our debts. This is the intent of that petition in the Our Father. Jesus knew the burden of debts. And he used stories to show how people can be enslaved by debts, both by borrowing from someone and by holding on to what we have lent to someone.

In Luke's version of the Our Father Jesus takes for granted already that his followers have obeyed his command to give and not to expect something in return. This is because the second part of the petition says, "for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us." This is already a statement of fact. We ourselves already forgive those indebted to us.

To prove that this was the attitude of Jesus toward debts, we read his other statements. He said, "Give to the man who begs from you. Do not turn your back on the borrower." (Matthew 5:42). Then in Luke he says, "lend without expecting repayment. Then will your recompense be great. You will rightly be called sons of the Most High, since he himself is good to the ungrateful and the wicked." (6:35).

In short Jesus wants a debt-free life for his followers. Of course this is difficult to follow during our time when almost every business is tied to a debt, either to start the business or keep it operating, or both. What we can say is that in the kingdom of God, that is, in a life under the lordship of Jesus the ideal is that his followers do not have personal debts. This is because God delivers them from debts and sins as they pray the Our Father and also because they give without expecting anything in return, as Jesus taught us to do.

Let us pray the prayer Jesus taught us, this time, with full attention on what we are praying. Let us bow our heads.

Father, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread
and forgive us our sins
for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us,
and do not subject us to the final test. (NABRE)

Friday, July 15, 2016

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

The Good Part

There are moments in our life when we think that what we are doing or thinking is most important for us. When we were in school what mattered most for some of us were grades and passing our subjects. A few of us might have been tempted to cheat in order to get a passing grade. Even today for the majority of students what matters most is finishing their studies and getting a degree.

When I was still teaching in the classroom I would make a survey among my students what their goal in life was. More than half of every class where I made this survey answered that their goal in life was to finish their studies. Indeed for them at that time finishing their studies was most important.

There are other events in our life when we think one activity or situation was most important for us. A suitor thinks that what is most important in his life is being accepted by the girl he is courting. A lady thinks that what is most important in her like is getting married in church. A farmer thinks that what is most important is getting a good harvest during a particular season. A businessman thinks that what is important is getting a contract signed for a business undertaking. We can multiply these occasions in our life.

The problem with such situations is that after a certain time things look differently. The student learns later on that getting good grades is not a sure guarantee of getting a good job. He realizes that sometimes it is not what you know that counts but whom you know who can hire you, with or without a degree. The suitor realizes that the girl he is in love with has had 5 suitors already whom she took advantage of financially. The lady realizes that church wedding is not a guarantee against an abusive husband. The farmer realizes a good crop cannot take him out of debt from the middleman merchant. The businessman realizes later that the business is a scam.

To put it rather briefly there are some things in life which at the time we are in them are most important when later events tell us they were not really so.

That is the lesson we have from our Gospel reading today. Most of us will sympathize with Martha because like her we think that what is most important in Christian life is serving Jesus. To our dismay later on we may realize that this does not count as important in the mind of Jesus.

Listen to this complaint of those who thought that they served Jesus during their life. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus envisions a time when those who served him on earth would say to him: "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? Have we not exorcised demons by its power? Did we not do many miracles in your name as well?" What was the reply of Jesus to them? He said, "Then I will declare to them solemnly, 'I never knew you. Out of my sight, you evildoers!'". (Matthew 7:22-23).

If this happens to us we would be shocked. Just imagine, we faithfully attended Mass and received communion on Sundays, we gave to the poor people who asked our help, we gave our service to the parish church where we lived. But at the end of our life, God forbid, we may hear those condemning words of the most lovable and most loving person, Jesus, saying to us: I never knew you. Out of my sight, evildoers.

Our Gospel reading makes it clear that it is not what we do for Jesus that matters but what Jesus does for us and in us. There was Martha who was busy thinking and worrying and working to serve Jesus and his disciples with a very good meal. But Jesus told her what she was doing was the least in his priority. It fact it was not his priority. And there was Mary her sister who did nothing but sat at Jesus' feet, listening to his words. And Jesus told Martha that her sister had gotten the good part, the one thing that was necessary to enjoy life in the kingdom of God here on earth and in the hereafter. This was not going to be taken away from her, Jesus commented.

This Gospel reading is a little bit difficult to understand and so translators of the passage have tried to make it understandable for us. Our reading says, "Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her". That is the revised translation of the New American Bible which we use at Mass. Before the revision this read, "Mary has chosen the better portion and she shall not be deprived of it."

I want you to focus your attention on the word "better". This is how the translators want us to understand the statement of Jesus, that Mary did something better than Martha. And this is understandable, given the context. Martha was preparing the meal. Mary was listening to Jesus. The translators would want us to understand that Mary was doing a better thing than Martha.

Unfortunately the word "better" is not in the original Greek of that passage. The word there is simply "agatheyn" which means "good." So correctly translated it can only read, "Mary chose the good part". This implies that Martha had not chosen the good part. This is made clear by Jesus himself who said that one thing was only required. Again this implies that the other thing was not required.

Here is a case where the original of the Gospel manuscript is very crucial to get the real meaning of what Jesus said. As Pope Pius XII said in his encyclical DIVINO AFFLANTE SPIRITU "In like manner therefore ought we to explain the original text which, having been written by the inspired author himself, has more authority and greater weight than any, even the very best translation, whether ancient or modern . . ." (16).
Jesus meant and still means "good" and not "better", as some translators would want us to understand. And this good was the one thing necessary.

To understand what this one thing that was necessary was, which was the thing required, we have to go to comparisons with some things in our life.

In college there are subjects called something like English 1, English 2, English 3, English 4. Some schools call this now Communication Arts. In the syllabus or list of subjects English 1 is labeled as required for English 2. If a student for some reason took English 2, 3 and 4 without taking English 1 his grades in English 2, 3, and 4 would be invalid. He is required to take English 1 to validate his grades in the succeeding subjects.

In baseball if a batter runs home without touching first base his home run is invalid or not counted. He is required to touch first base first.

In the church if a person is confirmed and receives the other sacraments without having first been baptized all the sacraments he receives are all invalid and have no effect as far as the sacraments are concerned. He is required to be baptized first.

In the same way if a person behaves like a follower of Jesus, a disciple of Jesus, but does not have this one thing that Jesus talks about his behavior has no effect as far as his or her Christian life is concerned.

And what is this one thing necessary which Mary had? It is expressed clearly in our Gospel passage: sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to his words. Jesus wants us to sit at his feet, listen to him, and allow his words to penetrate our minds and hearts so that he can live within us and through us. This is most important and this is necessary. Without this happening in our life we may be surprised to hear later on the words of Jesus that he does not know us.

Even today what Jesus desires is that we humble ourselves before him and listen to him and let his words sink in our minds and hearts. Just like what Mary the sister of Martha did.

Let us bow our heads to pray. Lord Jesus, you told us in the incident related in our Gospel passage that only one thing is necessary, is required. This is the good thing. This is humbling ourselves and listening to you. Make us do this by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

The Teacher

Most of us who have gone to college or even just high school had this experience where a teacher was asked by a student a certain question and the teacher commented: "That is a very good question. We will answer that in later lessons." What the teacher did in effect was to postpone his or her answer to the question either because he or she did not want to be disturbed in his or her train of thought or because he or she did not know the answer and had to do some reading to get the answer.

But this reaction of our teacher is also typical of us. When we have a question in our mind we look for the answer to that question somewhere. This is because there are so many things we do not know and we have to do some searching and researching in order to get to the answer of our question.

But the teacher whose story we heard of in our Gospel reading today did not have to tell his students that he would give the answer to their questions later because he had to do some research on the question. The reason was because he knew all the answers to all the questions in the world. In this sense he was a unique teacher. He knew all the answers. In fact in some churches he is simply labeled as the Answer.

On top of a cement structure near a church in Manila some years ago there was a sign in big letters, CHRIST IS THE ANSWER. Yes, this teacher in our Gospel reading is still the answer. He does not need to do some research to answer a question, even the most complicated or most difficult of questions.

Jesus is not just the best teacher. He is the teacher.  When we say he is the best teacher. we are comparing him with other teachers. But he cannot be compared with other teachers because he was a unique teacher. We can only make contrasts, not comparisons.

He is different from other teachers because he knows all the answers to all the questions we can think of. This does not apply only to religious matters. It applies to all sciences, religious or not. This applies to all the questions in astronomy, physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics, and the rest of all the sciences.

He knows all the answers because he is also the creator of all. As John says, by him all things were made and without him nothing was made (1:3). And Paul says Jesus is the one "in whom every treasure of wisdom and knowledge is hidden" (Colossians 2:3). We know only a very tiny fraction of creation. But Jesus knows all because he created everything.

In our second reading today we heard that "in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible." Jesus as teacher knows all, the things we see and those which we do not see.

Jesus is also unique among all teachers because even before we ask him a question he knows already what is in our mind. In our Gospel reading before the scholar of the law, or theologian as we would call him today, asked his question Jesus knew already his question. The psalmist exclaims, "Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know the whole of it" (139:4).

All other teachers do not know the questions in the minds of their students. At best they can make a good guess. But the teacher Jesus does not make a guess. He knows the precise question. He is the only teacher who does not guess.

Thirdly, Jesus is a unique teacher because all other teachers give out ideas, only ideas, but Jesus does not only give out ideas. He gives life. All other teachers show us how to live and live better. Jesus shows us life itself. He gives us life. In fact he is life itself. Many of us have memorized his statement, "I am the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6).

When the scholar in our Gospel reading asked Jesus what must he do to inherit eternal life, he did not realize he was in front of this eternal life.

Jesus is the teacher who gives us eternal life, shows us the way to obtain it, and answers our deepest yearnings. Vatican Two succinctly expressed this when it stated, "The Lord (Jesus) is the goal of human history, the focal point of the longings of history and of civilization, the center of the human race, the joy of every heart, and the answer to all its yearnings." (THE CHURCH TODAY, 45).

The scholar did not realize that the answer to his question was Jesus himself.

Today Jesus is still that kind of teacher, a teacher who knows all things, who knows our questions even before we ask them, and who gives us life, the life that really perfectly satisfies us because he is this life. He exercises his teaching ministry through the Holy Spirit, the Bible and his followers. Let us listen to this teacher, Jesus, our joy.

Let us bow our heads. Jesus, you are the unique teacher who knows all including the questions in our mind. You are the teacher who gives life. We accept you as our life. Live in us. Make us your teachers to show to others that you are our real teacher. Amen.